If I get killed working the night shift at the hotel, I’ll likely be trying to live-tweet about it.

When I’m working an interesting shift at the #paranormalhotel, I try to tweet a full and true account of events, but it’s hard to catch all the details while I’m in the midst of them unfolding. Fortunately, such nights make a deep impression on me so I remember even the things I don’t have time to type. Plus – you know – I’m a fiction writer, so I don’t have an ethical problem with tweaking any fuzzy recollections to smooth out the plot line.

The following is how my twitter should have read on Wednesday night. (The colored entries actually made it to my feed.) While writing it up for the blog, I stayed within the parameters of tweeting – it’s good practice and it distances me from the events a little.

4:00 at the #paranormalhotel: Arrive 1 hr early, as requested. Boss-wife is arguing with guests who say they were quoted a lower price.

4:03 at the #paranormalhotel: Boss-wife stands firm. Guests are stuck; they walked here and are tired. (And drunk?) Girl registers and pays.

4:30 at the #paranormalhotel: I’ve settled. Laundry not bad. Maid still working – 4 rms still dirty. No reservations. Likely a quiet night.

5:35 at the #paranormalhotel: Smoking. Young player I recognize as a regular visitor arrives in cab. Pays from an obscene wad of cash.

5:46 at the #paranormalhotel: Unregistered guy wants to pick up a package. No wallet. Shows me his name tattooed on his chest in lieu of ID.

5:52 at the #paranormalhotel: Guest called to say girl running and screaming in hallway. On my way up in elevator now.

5:55 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt2) Found girl crying in the stairwell. Scraped knee & missing sock. Gave standard “do you need help” spiel.

6:15 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt3) LSS – all just drama. Couple reunited in room. Warned against any further disturbance. 

6:20 at the #paranormalhotel: Maid leaves. On her report, a room that was to be cleaned is instead marked it as a do-not-disturb, stay-over.

6:21 at the #paranormalhotel: Well that ain’t right. I’ll have to find out why this stay-over in room 340 isn’t reflected by the register.

6:22 at the #paranormalhotel: Getting laundry started, I transfer at least 4 calls, and provide hotel info to another 3-4 potential guests.

7:00 at the #paranormalhotel: Phone really busy. Reservations for upcoming summer concerts: Marilyn Manson, ICP, ZZ Top, etc.

7:03 at the #paranormalhotel: I check my schedule. I’ll be working most of those concerts. (Yay.)

7:15 at the #paranormalhotel: Mom of long-term guest sets up a monthly rent payment for him from her account. He’s disrespectful. Also 37.

7:25 at the #paranormalhotel: Autistic 4yo & her father are hanging out in lobby. He reminds me she’ll scream if he makes her go upstairs.

7:26 at the #paranormalhotel: Father of autistic child wants to chat. Tells me he knows the couple that Boss-wife was arguing with.

7:30 at the #paranormalhotel: Long-term, old-lady guest returns from outing. Asks for messages. None, as usual. Tells me she loves me again.

7:40 at the #paranormalhotel: Phone REALLY busy tonight, + lots of check-ins. Can’t stay in laundry room long enough to get anything done.

7:42 at the #paranormalhotel: Boss-mom interrupts a check-in. She needs me in the laundry room NOW. I apologize to guest and follow.

7:43 at the #paranormalhotel: Boss-mom has added a mountain of new shower curtains. Language barrier requires miming of wash instructions.

7:50 at the #paranormalhotel: ASAP, I return to waiting and irritated guest. A short line has formed while I was playing charades.

7:59 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt4) Girl from earlier storms through lobby, out into the rain. Guy chases, barefoot. 

8p at the #paranormalhotel: (pt4.5) Girl crosses busy street, flipping guy off over shoulder. He yells, follows. They disappear into woods.

8:10 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt5) They return. She’s covered in mud. She’s still calling him sweetheart. I tell them they must leave.

8:13 at the #paranormal hotel: (pt6) I escort them to clean out room. He’s MAD. I’m waiting. Must take a call & relate rates and amenities.

8:18 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt7): Still waiting. Transfer 5-6th call of the evening to rm 340. Pretty sure caller hears guy yelling at me.

8:20 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt8) 4 cops arrive. They push guy against the hall wall. Tell him to turn face left, rather than look at me.

8:22 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt8.5) Girl washing off mud. Phone ripped out. 2 discarded, empty vodka pints. Clothes, garbage everywhere.

8:25 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt9) Cops question me briefly, then dismiss me. Don’t say who called them. I return to desk to wait.

8:40 at the #paranormalhotel: Waiting for cops; transfer ANOTHER call to 340. Hold up … that’s the unpaid stay-over, right?

8:42 at the #paranormalhotel: Confirmed – no record of payment for 340. I call. Guest says he thought girlfriend paid before leaving in a.m.

8:43 at the #paranormalhotel: I tell 340 he must pay or leave. He says he doesn’t have any $. Needs to arrange a ride. I give him until 9p.

8:55 at the #paranormalhotel: Checking register, I stumble on (censored to protect guest identity) this | ow.ly/x/xxxxx  

offender id  by Renae Rude

8:56 at the #paranormalhotel: Hmm. Turns out this guest has been staying in in one of our rooms for weeks. Never seen him. Nice to know.

8:59 at the #paranormalhotel: 340 appears, reeks of pot. Ride will arrive in 2 1/2 hours. Wants to wait in his room. Lobby will have to do.

9p at the #paranormalhotel: (pt10) Cops take in guy AND girl. They don’t talk to me. As usual, will never know the whole story.

9:05 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt10.5) I check evicted girl out of her room, flag her as a bad guest.

9:10 at the #paranormalhotel: Long-term, old-lady guest calls  – needs a plunger: she ate ice cream. (Eww.) New check-in enters. (Damn.) BRB

9:15 at the #paranormalhotel: Hunted up a plunger. delivered it to guest. She doesn’t know how to use it. (Argg.) BRB

9:17 at the #paranormalhotel: Run down stairs (It’s faster.) Check-in guest.

9:22 at the #paranormalhotel: Run back up. Father of autistic child is plunging toilet. (?!?) Child is leaping from bed to chair & back.

9:23 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt11) Plunging, he asks about couple & cops. I demur. He shakes head. Says, “They were just in the paper.”

9:30 at the #paranormalhotel: Back at desk. More calls. More arrivals. Assorted guests need assorted things. 340 is hanging out in lobby.

9:45 at the #paranormalhotel: 340’s girlfriend appears. Laughs at him. Reminds him she left $ in the car to pay for room. They pay. (Phew.)

10:05 at the #paranormalhotel: Player from earlier comes to desk. Left key in room, needs one. I call & quiz registered guest to confirm.

10:05 at the #paranormalhotel: Due diligence done, I make key – then ask if I can photo his roll of $ for blog. He laughs. | ow.ly/i/24vxj 

cash by Renae Rude

10:07 at the #paranormalhotel: This kid is maybe 20. I have never held that much cash at one time. I am 45.

10:10 at the #paranormalhotel: Smoking. Find this on top of trash can. Any idea what it is? ow.ly/x/xxxxx

what's this? by Renae Rude

10:30 at the #paranormalhotel: I write summary of night’s events for my boss. I have to tape multiple sticky notes together.

11p at the #paranormalhotel: I tackle the laundry, now that it’s quiet. Going to be leaving a lot for the overnight guy, I’m afraid.

11:30 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt12) On laundry room monitor, I see cop enter lobby. I go to desk. He says, “Good, you’re still here.”

11:50 at the #paranormalhotel: (pt13) Cop interviewed me, took my contact info. He’s not sure If I’ll need to do an official statement.

midnight at the #paranormalhotel: My replacement arrives. I apologize for laundry. He scans my note to boss and says, “Not a problem.”

12:15 at home: (pt14) Internet investigation turns up newspaper stories, mug shots and this |  ow.ly/x/xxxxx

a certain couple

12:16 at home: (pt15) Both are on parole for severe child neglect. Both have multiple DUIs. He also has multiple assaults.

12:30 at home: I am haunted by how many times I stepped between them to protect her. Either one could have turned on me.

12:50 at home: I call the night guy to tell him to enter and flag the guy-half of this train-wreak couple.

1a at home: I crawl into bed with my husband.

Because, sometimes, it’s exhausting to work at:


The unexpected occupant in room 217.

I’ve delayed writing about an experience I had in the old hotel for too long. Already, some of the details of the event are slipping away. I can’t remember what night of the week it was, for example, or what the weather was like. I have no recollection of what else was going on my life at the time. I can’t forget, however, exactly what I saw, and heard, inside room 217.

Room 217.

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I know that I was working the overnight shift. The hotel was nearly full. It was late. A sixty-something gentleman came in, wanting a non-smoking room for two nights. This presented me with a dilemma. We did have one available non-smoking room, but I knew it was reserved for the following night. Hotel management would frown on me splitting the guest’s two-night stay into two different rooms.

(The hospitality industry hates to accommodate a guest’s consecutive-nights stay using more than one room because doing so raises housekeeping costs. When housekeeping cleans a room from start to finish, it takes about a half hour. When they do a stay-over, it takes about ten minutes.)

So, I lied. I told the gentleman we had only smoking rooms remaining. I also told him that the intensity of the smoke smell in any given room depends largely on how recently the carpets had been cleaned and how heavily the latest guest smoked. I suggested we go have a look at – or rather a sniff of – one of the available rooms, to see if it would work for him. He agreed to my suggestion. When I checked the computer for an empty smoking room, 215 came up.

While the gentleman and I climbed the stairs and walked along the hallway, he told me he was taking a road trip on his Harley, which he was enjoying immensely, but that he was missing his boxer dog. Already inclined to like this polite prospective guest, I warmed to the conversation. As I was telling him about my own dog, I kept an eye out for the room I wanted to show him. Still describing the boxery features of my cross-breed, I stopped in front of room 217. I rapped on the door – because hotel clerks are taught they must ALWAYS knock – then unlocked and opened it. I stepped into the room and reached for the light switch. My hand froze in mid-air.

All the lamps in the room were off, but – because the security light in the parking lot was glowing through the drapes – I could clearly see the bed closest to the window … and what I saw was not the smooth, made-up bed I expected. Instead, I saw the silhouette of a man who had just thrown back the covers. The room was shadowy enough that I couldn’t make out many details of his appearance. The figure was male, I determined, because its shoulders were broad and its hair was close-cropped. I remember thinking, Either his pajamas  are awfully snug or he’s naked. In the instant I saw him, he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to me, but he was using his arms to push himself up and off the mattress.

This photograph was taken several days later, in the afternoon.

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I gasped and stumbled backward, into the chest of the gentleman who was trying to follow me into the room. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry,” I said to the figure on the bed. I spun and pushed the prospective guest into the hallway. I pulled the door shut behind me, stopping just short of slamming it. My heart was hammering. I looked up into the surprised eyes of the gentleman and said, “There’s someone in there. I just walked in on a sleeping guest at two-thirty in the morning.”

I must have looked as panicky as I felt because he lightly grasped my arm and guided me away from the door. We stopped in front of room 215. “I thought you said we were going to room 215, but then I thought maybe I was miss-remembering when you walked past it,” he said. “I should have spoken up when I saw the sign on 217 that says it’s non-smoking.”

I believe I responded with, “I am so fired.”

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” he said gently. “Maybe we didn’t even wake him up.”

“He was getting out of the bed. He must have heard the knock, and was coming to the door.”

“Well, he’s not coming out–” His words were cut off by the distinct sound of the guest in room 217 flipping the security lock to the engaged position. We both stood silently, staring at the door. After a few seconds, he resumed speaking. “See? He’s just going to go back to bed. Maybe he thinks he dreamed us coming in.”

I wanted, more than anything, to run downstairs to see who was in 217. I was hoping it was occupied by one of the construction crew guys. I imagined one of them would be most likely to forgive me, and to not complain to management. I still had to deal with the guest in front of me, however, so – after knocking and waiting a long time to ensure 215 was empty – I showed him the room. He found the scent inside acceptable and agreed to rent it. We headed toward the front desk.

When we came to the end of the hallway, I looked down into the lobby. A fully uniformed police officer was standing at the foot of the stairs. Of course, I immediately assumed the guest in room 217 had called the cops; I was only surprised by his quick response time. On shaky legs, I descended.

The cop nodded at the gentleman and me, then gestured toward the sofa in the lobby, where a young man was trying to sit up straight. “We can wait until you’re done,” he said.

As quickly as possible, I checked the gentleman into the hotel. The last thing he said to me, before heading upstairs was, “I’m sure it will be okay.”

The police officer beckoned the unsteady young man to the desk. He explained he’d found him passed out in the middle of a local bar’s parking lot. Because the young man had not attempted to drive – and seemed to have resources with which he could pay for lodging – the cop didn’t want to haul him all the way over to the drunk tank in the next town. He asked me if I minded renting him a room. I didn’t. Under the cop’s watchful eye, I guided the young man through the process of checking in. The officer then told me he’d escort the young man to the room, and see to it that he got settled in.

After they departed, I had a moment to check to see who was in room 217. I flipped through the file of room cards. The slot for room 217 was empty. I checked the computer. The register showed that room 217 was unoccupied and available for rent, but reserved for the following night. I realized, with shock, it was the same room that I’d lied about, the one I’d said we didn’t have. Incredibly, it took another moment for me to really parse that it was most definitely supposed to be vacant.

More than an hour passed before I summoned the courage to go back upstairs to check the room. The door yielded to my keycard. the room was empty. Both beds were immaculately made up. There was no sign anyone had been in it since it had last been cleaned.

I spent the rest of my shift trying to figure out what had happened. I contemplated the possibility that my own guilty conscience had betrayed me. I told myself I’d led the gentleman to that room because I’d felt bad about not offering it to him. I’d imagined a figure in the room because some part of my unconscious mind realized that I had been about to reveal my lie. I considered my own nature. I call myself the paranormalist, for God’s sake – It’s obvious that I want to see a ghost. Probably I’d just conjured one in my mind. Even after rationalizing the sighting, however, I couldn’t convince myself that the thing I saw was imaginary. It had been solid and it had acted realistically. At the time of the sighting, a paranormal entity couldn’t have been further from my mind. Most persuasively, I knew that I had not imagined the sharp, unambiguous sound of the security lock being engaged.

Days passed. I confessed what had happened to a coworker. I asked her if there were any stories associated with room 217. She said there were not – at least none to her knowledge – but that everyone got the creeps when they passed the weird stairwell that was directly across the hall from its door.

Fire exit stairwell, across from room 217.

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Finally, on a day off, I convinced my husband to come to the hotel with me, so that I could take the photographs you see in this post. Nothing strange showed up in any of the pictures.

By that time, I’d come around to believing I’d imagined the sighting. In order to convince myself, all I needed to do was replicate the sound of the security lock without actually engaging it. We tried to force the door to make the sound the gentleman and I had heard while we stood in the hallway that night. Repeatedly, we left the door just slightly unlatched, so that it might click into place under its own weight.

It didn’t work. The only way we could duplicate the noise was to have my husband stand inside the room with the door closed then flip the security lock.

It wasn’t long after that I was transferred to my new hotel. I haven’t had the chance to pick up a shift at the old place, but I intend to. Some winter’s night, when the hotel is all but empty, I want to unpack my ghost chasing tools and investigate room 217. As long as I’m at it, I’ll go after room 107 too.

I’ll let you know what happens.

WriMoProg: 12 +30 = 42/80 (updated – I’m at almost 10,000 words now)


How do you know you aren’t dead?

I think I’ve already expressed how discombobulated I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve acknowledged all the major changes in my life in the last eight months, and I’ve been trying to cut myself some slack about feeling a little … off. Mostly, I’ve been blaming my disorientation on inconsistent sleep and work schedules. In a recent post, I admitted that I feel like I’m sleepwalking or dreaming much of the time.

I had a rough day at the hotel. When I work the first shift, part of my job is doing the audit just before 1:00p. That means, in a short period of time, I have to count out the cash drawer, close my shift, audit the day’s sales (in both the computer’s reservation system and on the credit card machine,) prepare some reports, drop my cash, and start a new shift. It’s not hard. Repeatedly, however, my manager has stressed the importance of finishing the tasks BEFORE the hotel’s day rolls over … at precisely 1:01p.

Today, at 12:38p, the drawer came up $247.23 short.

Right about then, one of the housekeepers rushed up to the desk to say she was out of towels. I assured her there was a load in the dryer that would be ready for me to fold in about fifteen minutes. Panic flared in her eyes. She didn’t move; she didn’t say anything. A fly landed on the shiny marble desktop between us. She didn’t even glance at it. I said, “Maybe a little less than fifteen minutes?”  She sighed, then trudged away from me, shaking her head.

Green Bottle Fly by John Talbot
http://www.flickr.com/photos/laserstars

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I set to staring at first one report then another. A couple of (precious) minutes later I heard someone come into the lobby and stride toward the desk. I looked up. My (gorgeous) husband smiled down at me, then asked if I would like him to fetch some lunch. Of course I was nice to him, but all I could really do was shoo him away as fast as possible and hope that he wouldn’t come back until I had dealt with my problems.

Just before 1:00p, I realized the guy who had worked the night shift had screwed up. Once I figured that out, I was able to tally a proper cash drop – of more than $700 dollars – for both of us. When my husband returned, he didn’t ask any questions; he only handed a paper bag and a huge soda to me and wished me luck. I finished the audit late. (Which did cause some complications later in the day, but I survived.) I got the towels folded before the housekeeper could melt down entirely, and started another load washing.

By 1:30p I was sitting in my chair, eating a cold hamburger, thinking about how much of my life has become weirdly repetitive. The particular chain of events that had frazzled me, on this particular day, was a slightly fresh twist on individual events that happen again and again.

In the last few months at work, I have washed, dried and folded hundreds (thousands?) of white towels and white sheets. I have counted an obscene amount of money out of cash drawers. (And freaked-out repeatedly about apparent discrepancies, which I eventually solve.) I always wear the same clothes. (A uniform shirt and the one pair of black pants that I own.) 

At home, I wash my uniform shirts and pants multiple times each week. When I do that, I always take the dog with me, and I always use the same machine. I eat the same meals over and over, now that I don’t really cook anymore. I almost always fall asleep on the sofa. (I’m still trying to make it all the way through a show I recorded weeks ago.)

As I was chewing on my burger (and my thoughts) the fly made another appearance. Its flight pattern was erratic. It landed often, resting briefly, before struggling back up into the air to bumble along for another foot or two.

I started thinking about how flies do that in the autumn, when cool evenings force them to shelter indoors. The phenomenon has been more obvious to me since we moved to the apartment. Out at the “farm”, flies were more common, and I didn’t pay much attention to their behaviors. (I suppose they were attracted to the chickens … which was unfortunate for the flies, because chickens love nothing better than to snack on flies.) In town, I had only noticed flies within the last month or so. In the apartment, we hardly ever see an insect indoors, probably because we live on the second floor. Because I’ve become spoiled by the absence of creepy-crawlies, I often just leave the patio door part-way open. (The cat and dog like to wander out onto the balcony, then back in.) Lately, a few flies have taken advantage of my carelessness.

After I finished my lunch, I sorted the mail. (Some of our guests use the hotel like a rooming house, even receiving regular mail delivery there.) Once I’d marked the correct room number on each envelope and tossed them into a nearby outbox, the desktop was clear for the first time in the day.

It was at that moment that I realized that I did not KNOW  I had dropped the cash into the lockbox at the end of audit-time. I racked my memory. I could clearly picture myself sealing the envelope and writing the total on it. I remembered setting it aside, so that I could run the audit reports. I might have set my lunch bag on top of it after my husband left it with me.

I may have – must have, I told myself – slipped it into the slot as I passed by it, on my way to the laundry room to fold those damn towels.

I propped my elbows on the desk, in the space I’d just cleared, and dropped my face into my palms. I am so fucking tired of not having a functional brain, I thought. I am so fucking tired, period.

For the last three mornings running, I’d been awakened – earlier than I would like – by a single fly that likes to land – over and over – on whatever exposed skin it can find.

Do you know what occurred to me then, while I sat with my head in my hands? Flies like dead things.

Actions repeated over and over and over again. Lost memories. Disorientation.

Kinda sounds like the way a ghost would perceive its existence, doesn’t it?